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In honor of Farrah Fawcett, let's revisit one of the major urban legends of the late 1970s: that the curls of Fawcett's hair, in her famous red-bathing-suit poster, spell out the word "SEX."

This legend arose to explain the incredible popularity of the poster, which sold over 12 million copies (by some accounts). It was always a bit of a mystery why that image in particular became such a focus of popular fixation. After all, there were plenty of other posters of scantily clad attractive young women. The subliminal seduction theory offered a seemingly plausible explanation. The poster was so popular, according to this theory, because the brains of young men were subconsciously perceiving the word "SEX" in her hair, and this triggered desire for the poster.

The word "SEX" is supposed to begin with the curls on her right shoulder that form an S. I can see the S, but I can't see an E-X.

Anyway, I don't think one needs to invoke subliminal seduction to explain the popularity of the poster. The combination of the smile and the nipples makes it an eye-catching image. And once it started to become popular, then the dynamics of group psychology kicked in, turning it into a fad.

Update: Thanks to Joel B1, I think I've now identified where the "EX" is supposed to be. For the benefit of those still unable to see it, I've highlighted the entire word in the relevant section of the image.
Categories: Advertising, Photos/Videos, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 25, 2009
Comments (18)
A dispute between two young girls escalated into an online fight between the mothers. The mother of one of the girls posted an ad on Craigslist offering sex with men, and listed the phone number of the other girl's mother as the contact. Twenty-two people called the number. The woman has now been charged with aggravated harrassment. [Newsday]
Categories: Advertising, Hate Crimes/Terror, Law/Police/Crime, Social Networking Sites
Posted by Alex on Mon May 11, 2009
Comments (2)
Some woman (who doesn't name herself) has realized that for years people have been reading her mind. "TV shows were following my daily thoughts and stores began bringing products I had been wishing for, it finally dawned on me that they were not just teasing me, they were actually getting more viewers and selling more products!" Instead of fighting this condition, she's decided to accept it and profit from it. For which reason, she's now accepting "brain ads." In return for a donation, she will project the telepathic ad of your choice. I'm assuming this is a joke. (Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Advertising, Paranormal, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 14, 2009
Comments (7)
Should the LA Times have run an ad designed to look like a regular news column on its front page? (The ad was for an NBC news show Southland.) Critics, who include quite a few of the paper's own staffers, argue that it crossed a line of journalistic integrity. The paper's defenders point out that all newspapers are losing money nowadays, so whether you like it or not, expect to see more ads disguised as news columns in the future. [Editors Weblog]
Categories: Advertising, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 13, 2009
Comments (10)
When Scottish tourism officials first unveiled the promotional poster for next year's Homecoming Scotland campaign (whose purpose is to get people of Scottish descent to visit the homeland), people looked at it and remarked, "You know, not everyone in Scotland is white."

So a second version of the poster was sneaked out, with one small change: an Asian guy had been photoshopped in. (He's on the left side of the bottom image).

But most people seem to think the change is even worse than the original, calling it "tokenism" and blasting the government tourism agency for having to "think about it after the event."

The most famous case of cut-and-paste diversity was the cover of UW Madison's 2001-2002 undergraduate application.
Categories: Advertising, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 22, 2008
Comments (10) told Anthony Michaels that former classmates were looking for him. If only he would upgrade to a premium membership, they would put him in touch with his school buddies. So Michaels paid the money. Then he discovered that no one was looking for him. Now he's brought a class-action suit against for deceptive advertising.

There's a fine line in advertising between what's legal and what's not. "Puffery," which is defined as making exaggerated claims that the average consumer would never take literally, is legal. Example: "You'll love it!" However, making specific, factually misleading claims is illegal. For instance, you can't claim that a product regrows hair if it doesn't. seems to be on the illegal side of that line, so I predict they'll end up paying out money in this suit.
Categories: Advertising, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 13, 2008
Comments (15)
Apparently John McCain's campaign has access to the same time machine used by the Chinese journalists at Xinhua News who reported the launch of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft (including the astronaut's dialogue) hours before it happened. (See previous post.)

McCain's campaign has been running an ad in the Wall Street Journal's online edition declaring that "McCain Wins Debate," which is a bold assertion considering that the debate will only happen tonight.

Link: Washington Post

Categories: Advertising, Future/Time, Politics
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 26, 2008
Comments (6)
Margriet Oostveen describes in how she composed phony letters-to-the-editor on behalf of the McCain campaign:

The assignment is simple: We are going to write letters to the editor and we are allowed to make up whatever we want -- as long as it adds to the campaign. After today we are supposed to use our free moments at home to create a flow of fictional fan mail for McCain. "Your letters," says Phil Tuchman, "will be sent to our campaign offices in battle states. Ohio. Pennsylvania. Virginia. New Hampshire. There we'll place them in local newspapers." ...

"We will show your letters to our supporters in those states," explains Phil. "If they say: 'Yeah, he/she is right!' then we ask them to sign your letter. And then we send that letter to the local newspaper. That's how we send dozens of letters at once."

This is called "astroturf" (i.e. an artificial grassroots campaign). It's a popular campaign strategy. Basically a variation on the fake testimonial technique in advertising.

Some notable moments in the history of Astroturf:

• In 2003 democrats noticed similar letters in support of President Bush's economic policies appearing in papers such as the Boston Globe, the Cincinnati Post, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The letters all began with the line: "When it comes to the economy, President Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership." The letter was traced back to a Republican website,, that had posted it and was encouraging readers to print it out and send it to local papers.

• In 1997, when the Justice Department was suing Microsoft for violating antitrust laws, Utah's attorney general noticed he was receiving numerous pro-Microsoft letters peppered with similar phrases such as "strong competition and innovation have been the twin hallmarks of the technology industry." Upon closer investigation, he discovered that some of the letters came from people who were dead. It turned out Microsoft was composing the letters and then sending them to individuals who had expressed positive sentiments about Microsoft in phone polls. The individuals were instructed to sign the letters and forward them to their attorney general. But unfortunately for Microsoft, some of the individuals had died in between being polled and receiving the letter. Their family members, thinking the letter was some kind of official document, had signed the letter and forwarded it on with a note explaining the situation, thereby exposing the whole scheme.

(Thanks, Bob and Joe!)
Categories: Advertising, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 25, 2008
Comments (4)
There probably is some sound marketing psychology to the idea that if people are seen lining up for something, other people will assume it's desirable. I've often suspected that those people who line up to buy Sony Playstations (or whatever the product might be) are getting paid. From

A POLISH mobile phone operator said yesterday it had hired actors to stand in line to buy Apple's iPhone as the device went on sale for the first time in the eastern European country. The company, Orange, said it hired the fake customers as a way to stimulate interest.
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 25, 2008
Comments (8)
Osteria L’Intrepido, a restaurant in Milan, Italy, was recently awarded Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence for its wine list. Problem is, Osteria L'Intrepido doesn't exist. It was a hoax restaurant created by Robin Goldstein (author of The Wine Trials) which he created to test the validity of Wine Spectator's award program.

Goldstein's description of the hoax can be read here. Wine Spectator's response is here.

If you don't know much about Wine Spectator's award program (as I didn't) this article in the NY Times provides some good background. Basically, the awards have long been recognized as a bit of a joke within the restaurant industry. Almost everyone who sends in the $250 application fee along with a copy of their menu and wine list gets the award. It's the restaurant equivalent of getting a Brillante Weblog Premio Award.

However, most restaurant goers don't know that. (I didn't.) And they're likely to be impressed by seeing a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence plaque hanging on the wall. That's the whole idea. It's a marketing scheme masquerading as an award program.

For Wine Spectator and their awardees it was a cozy little arrangement. I'm sure they never figured that someone would pay the $250 application fee just to poop on the party. (Thanks to Joe Littrell and Cranky Media Guy)
Categories: Advertising, Food
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 22, 2008
Comments (9)
Product placement has reached the TV news. On the desk in front of the anchors of Las Vegas's Fox 5 TV news sit two cups of McDonald's iced coffee. McDonald's is paying for the coffee to be there. But the best part: it's not real coffee. It's just a plastic simulation of iced coffee. From the Las Vegas Sun:

The anchors aren’t even supposed to acknowledge them, McDonald’s reps explain. That’s part of their genius, my little lambs! They get into your mind without you knowing it. So they just sit there, two logo-emblazoned plastic cups, percolating into the psyche. Made-to-scale models that weigh something like seven pounds each — refreshing, and bottom-line boosting!

The Las Vegas news isn't alone in doing this. Lots of news shows are joining in. I think I've seen similar cups on the San Diego news. I'd like to see one of the anchors forced to drink the cup down. (Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Advertising, Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 23, 2008
Comments (10)
Just as popular recently as the Office Freakout video (posted about below), has been a video titled "Wii Fit - Why You Should Buy It For Your Girlfriend." It's one minute of a girl in her underwear working out with the Nintendo Wii Fit as her boyfriend ogles her.

There's been a lot of speculation that the video is a (not-so) covert marketing campaign by Nintendo. People grew even more suspicious after it was discovered that the woman in the video, 25-year-old Lauren Bernat, and her boyfriend, 30-year-old Giovanny Gutierrez, both work in advertising. Even better, they both specialize in internet advertising. But Nintendo insists it had nothing to do with the video. The Telegraph reports:

"This has and is absolutely 100 per cent nothing to do with Nintendo," a spokesman said.
"Nintendo did not create it and were not aware of it until it was brought it to our attention."
Mr Gutierrez has also denied that it was a viral advert for the Wii Fit.

Nintendo may not have created it, but I'm sure their pr people have been busy trying to spread the word about it, once they realized the interest it was attracting. Of course, it could also be a "sub-viral" campaign (defined as a viral campaign a company creates, but then denies having any hand in.)
Categories: Advertising, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 12, 2008
Comments (14)
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